THE BRIGHT NIGHT
Is it a delusion that I behold?
Is it Ragnarok?
Is it Ragnarok?
Ye dead men ride,
And your horses with spurs urge on,
Or is to warriors a journey home granted?
And your horses with spurs urge on,
Or is to warriors a journey home granted?
- Poetic Edda – Helgi’s Return, verse 40
Twilit and grey arched the sky of the northern land over the dark-leaden water surface of the sea. The sun was veiled behind the eastern horizon, matte colors, almost whitish opalescent. The solitude seemed oppressive.
Reimer steered the passage between the Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land. South-East of Svalbard moved a dark spot through the water. A Russian transporter. The wake was only a thin white-grey line. The German craft came down lower. From the stack puffed suddenly a thicker smoke and the boat took on full steam. It had already spotted the enemy and recognized them. It tried to avoid an expected bombing with a zig-zagging course.
“A lucrative deal!” stated Recke, carefully looking into the depths, “He’s darting around like crazy. It never imagined being joined by a German pilot out here. Because,” Recke focused on the radio, “they’ve already radioed the civilian harbors in Kohlen-bai!”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Reimer, “Why shouldn’t people have an airrade too?”
“I feel like a toothless wolf. No bombs, no armaments!” The captain from Kassel cursed. Reimer pulled back on the stick. The ship with the curved wake behind them, they continued on their course. They flew over Kvitøya. From the right gleamed the brilliant glaciers of the north-east Spitsbergen. “We’ve already passed the eightieth latitude,” said the Linzer.
Increasingly the drifting patches of ice disturbed the dull surface of the sea. Part dirty-white, part crystalline, the floes and icebergs floated lazily.
“I’m getting cold just by looking down there. Despite our combined body-heat!” Reimer shook himself like a dog pulled from the water.
“We should approve ourselves a hot sip!” suggested Recke. He reached for the thermos-bottle and poured hot tea with rum. Thoughtful, he handed the cup to Reimer in the front. “Sorry I can’t serve you, Gutmann.”
“I’ve already opened my thermos,” answered Gutmann from beside, “I was already cold from the sky color!”
After the drink Recke took out the maps again. He measured the distance of the planned route to X-Point in Greenland. “Damn it – we have to stay damn-sharp on target and be careful! We only have five percent fuel left, which we’ll be using of course.
“I already know that,” replied Reimer calmly, “Out of everything it’s the outlying magnetic North Pole that’s forcing us to take a bit bow. I’ve known it since we took off that this is already over Canadian soil.”
“Yes, on the Boothia Peninsula, north of the Franklin isthmus. I’d never dreamed that I’d come to America day come next!”
The drift increased. Through the glass they could already pick out the vast and bizarre forms. Constantly engaged, the positions were determined where the new navigation device proved especially useful, while the normal compass remained restless.
Ice, water and ice again. Ever whiter and greater were the faces. Mighty and grandoise blocks. Floes heaving themselves into barriers. Flakes brushed through the air.
The engines sang uniformly. Reimer held up at the exact geographic North Pole. He headed for the first goal in a straight line, strongly impressed now by the adventurousness of their company.
The bottom landscape was changing. The faces of the dark water dwindled into gullies and rills, the white-grey of the ice-scape spreading more and more. After a quarter of an hour in flight they seemed to have reached the inner Arctic.
A remark sounded from Gutmann, “Atmospheric conditions.”
“I’ve already noticed,” Reimer confirmed.
“It won’t disturb our course.”
“Is it possible to land at the pole?”
“You’re already having a polar-tantrum!”
“What, you can’t even ask?” Gutmann felt insulted. Reimer was more pleasing, “Of course I assume you can. That much I know, everything’s there. We’ll be there soon enough to see it with out own eyes. However – I’m not going to land. If we get damaged, we’ll be pushing up daisies!”
He looked over to Gutmann, who was pressing his face against the window of the cabin looking. He left hand pointed downward, “How much longer?”
“About half-an-hour,” replied Reimer.
“Just as I calculated. What a fateful moment!”
“Fateful,” replied Recke as usual, “What do you do on such occasions?”
“Tilt half a cup!”
“What’s that, Gutmann?”
“3 S C!”
“Are you trying to tease us?”
“Not at all. Just look behind the second seat,” called Gutmann calmly over. Recke did immediately as he was told. He cried out, “Eureka!”
“Our stargazer stowed the stolen bottles here from the start!”
“Didn’t I promise? A hearty swig is still allowed. I’ve already done my part as a precaution.”
“Children, compare your measurements!” Reimer demanded.
“It’s almost time. We need to fly over the pole exactly right.”
The captains addressed immediately responded. After a few minutes Recke bent down over Reimer’s shoulder to read the speedometer. Then he looked at the last position and on the map, “Ten more minutes – damn it again!”
Reimer flew deeper. Three pairs of eyes stared fixated at the flat, white surface, which spread out like a huge, white cloth. A seemingly endless white desert. An iridescent pale light lay over the field and exercised a magic spell.”
The tension in the men grew. Five minutes… three…
Circle… review of position… the pole!
“Cheers! – Prime cognac! – A great moment! – 1945 – Germans at the pole! – Cheers again!”
“Only three victory laps!” said Reimer, “We have to go on and get to the magnetic brother. Otherwise there won’t be enough fuel left. Unfortunately.”
All three men felt excited and agitated. To just have flown over the pole was an experience. A favor of fate?
After the last bend the plane flew back towards the equator, to the Canadian side. Even further away from home.
Suddenly Gutmann shouted from beside, “Hey, Recke, don’t you want to see if the radio works?”
“Why?” The man from Kassel was surprised?
“An experiment,” bid Gutmann urgently, “Try it out, try sending the letters ZYX.”
“And if we reveal ourselves?”
“Hardly,” said Gutmann, “Try it!”
“No way. What are you thinking? We’re flying with secret orders!”
Gutmann turned his face and looked out the other side of the panes. He was annoyed. During a later position check he gave only two curt answers.
“Strange fellow, Gutmann,” said Recke to Reimer. He knew that Gutmann was overhearing him. “What would’ve happened if I’d had the same crazy idea?” Gutmann didn’t respond to the conversation of the two friends in the mini staff meeting. Reimer just shrugged his shoulders and continued looking out over the white land.
The polar magic took possession of him. The two other captains were also subject silently to the strange mood.
Still there was the infinite polar expanse. Approaching projections on the ground threw grey shadows away from their sources of light. Sharp ridges cut borderline in contrast between the pale white and dark shadows.
Fatigue pressed to come upon the plane, but the excitement of the great experience was stronger. Continually they stared on. The aircraft was flying pretty low.
“I wonder if we’ll see polar bears on the seaside,” Reimer asked softly, speaking more to himself. It was his great desire that he carried in his heart, like a child who had a craving for a particular toy. He sat in his seat slightly bent forward.
“Should I let you off?” asked Recke.
“Thanks,” replied Reimer, “It would be awkward climbing around. We’d be smashed like a disk. There’s something about this cold, how prevailing it is… Brrr!”
“I only meant it like that!” Recke toned down.
“Here – want some pervitin?”
“Not at the moment. I’d still want to wait even with a stimulant. One shouldn’t get too used to it.”
A quarter-hour passed by the fourth hour. The sky was a pale and shady bell. Greenish lights flickered over the firmament. Again it was Recke who broke the long silence, “What if this was all ice since time immemorial?”
This time Reimer turned in surprise. And both felt instinctively that Gutmann was also looking over excited. A simultaneous look at the right cockpit confirmed the feeling.
“There are only theories,” Reimer gave his answer slowly, “But somehow I think it’s possible that it wasn’t always like this.”
“Do you have reasons for this assumption?”
“Of course, Recke! Remember the Spitsbergen; the coal-seams there are evidence of an earlier flora. I also believe that Greenland, in German “grassland”, must have been a green, fertile island once. A rapidly occurring and progressing glaciation covered the country later with lethal ice. The alleged Atlantis myth could be connected to that. It could also be that it was still ripe for colonization during the Viking era. By the way – I once heard that cornflowers are beginning to grow back in Greenland. As a part of the general glacier decline it may very well be that at least the southern parts of the once green lands can be cultivated again.”
“I can tell you even more about it,” Gutmann spoke up, “I also know what Reimer just said and I can add to his knowledge. I’ve dealt with the study of Iranian manuscripts namely in civilian life and was able to gather from them that the Vendidad of the Avesta tells of a catastrophe about an ancient race that lived in earlier, warmer Arctic regions, which was displaced and partially destroyed by the sudden onset of an ice-age winter. Within the said Vendidad speaks Ahura Mazda, the White Lord, among other things to Zarathustra: ‘Only once a year can the stars, moon and stars be seen there. And the people there have a day which is a year.’ I noticed this passage in the book well because it captivated me now as does the dreamlike reality under us now. This reference, which also refers to the course of the stars, is proof to me. This knowledge could only come from a previous knowledge of the place, and never a theory, as the ancient star-watching civilizations were based on careful observation. I’ve even given myself over to the idea that the pole was the original paradise!”
“Nope,” muttered Recke, “Now you’re just starting to lay it on thick!”
“You don’t have to believe it,” came across through the microphone, “But I want to tell you more, something Reimer also hardly knows of; the famous researcher Dacqué is hardly a stranger to you and is undoubtedly a recognized scientific authority. He also refers to old traditions according to which grew green forests earlier in the Arctic. With grapevines even. Furthermore geological finds have brought forth plant fossils under sections of sediments which confirmed the presence of these plants as well as animals. The verification showed that in the Tertiary period it was very warm in this region and a lush flora flourished. Science confirms the old legends. I therefore say again: the pole is the earlier paradise of the former Golden Age. Somewhere in these large, isolated spaces is the mysterious island of the Hyperboreans, and if a new age dawns on the human race in the future, which is tied in with the old polar mythos, so will it be that all cultural fertilization came from the North. Even fabled Atlantis is postulated to be a Nordic culture. And to Reimer’s correct words I’d like to add that there’ve also been discoveries made in Greenland provide evidence of an ancient Nordic culture. Danes, among them Rasmussen, as well as a Canadian researcher, found valuable material under the current glacial layer, which became known as the ‘Thule Culture’.”
Recke snorted, “I can’t imagine how you’d dig in these regions at all.”
“Not here, of course. But at the ice’s edge. The archeologists haven’t had it easy.”
“How do you explain the fact that they’ve found no more traces of the Atlantis culture in easier to reach places?”
Recke’s interest began to deepen.
“Atlantis consisted of conjectures according to some very large islands which, according to Hanns Hörbiger’s World Ice Theory – concerning the moon and satellites we see today, were sunk by those that once orbited the earth. According to Hörbiger, there then came a great catastrophe and a massive tidal wave circled the globe in an equatorial direction. In the traditions of mankind, the cosmically influenced event was called the Flood. Offshoots of this ancient culture were identified, however. The well-known Africanist Leo Frobenius was, with his finds in Yorubaland, convinced of the connection therewith because they had no Negroid elements. Oddly enough, the German geologist and coastal explorer Edmund Kiss found an over-sized head near Tiahuanaco in the Bolivian Altiplano which had purely Nordic traits. Incidentally Kiss confirmed with his research in the Andean heights the accuracy of Hörbiger’s theory. The latest speculations suggest that at least in the Dogger Bank area around Helgoland, it was still in the old annals and maps up until the seventeenth century called ‘Holyland’.”
“Then you believe Plato’s report?” asked Reimer, without taking his eyes from the direction of flight. Despite the eavesdropping he worked closely with steering the plane and stayed on course.
“Yeah,” said Gutmann simply, “That’s because Plato couldn’t afford to be misunderstood by his contemporaries or viewed as a fraud or a liar. In addition, the literary genre of the historical or fantasy novel didn’t exist at this time, which can be gathered from those and even earlier writings. Has Plato still invented this story, he would’ve thought it even better for his purposes.”
The captain from Kassel also observed the landscape and the airy sky. Still he said tensely, “It’s strange that a little of our lives were fixed in outlying Trondheim in the history of the world and had no clue how we’d kill the boredom. Now, ironically, we actually get to know. We have an immense amount of time to spare for talking about these things in detail.”
“We’ve had time. If, however, there’s interest, it’s questionable. Everything has its time. You often have to take into account the circumstances,” lectured Gutmann.
As Gutmann stayed silent, Recke continued, “The flood associated with Atlantis is actually more realistic than the Biblical records.”
“I can boast of some knowledge myself here,” came Reimer from in between, “The biblical scripture was in fact no direct writing, but rather taken from older sources and was partly transcribed, partly changed according to needs. And ancient sandscrit Vana Parva in the Mahabharata, the Siva Purana and the oldest, the Hari Purana, all report of a similar great flood. In the biblical version, in which all who knew Jehovah’s decision knew it was to punish mankind, is a repeat of the much older version of Brahma in the Hari Purana. Also in the original epic of Gilgamesh, the floor is given a similar treatment.”
“Shiver me timbers!” cried Gutmann, “I knew too, but I thought that’d be too advanced for you.”
“Do we look that stupid?” asked Recke, insulted. The man from Linz smirked.
“I can tell you something stranger,” said Gutmann again, clearly, “Reimer already mentioned the Bible. The creation of the world included in the first book of Genesis comes about in the same way. The Hebraic urtext of the Masoretes describes Jehovah as the creator of the world, like Vishnu, the all-pervasive, is described in the Canti Parva which is thousands of years older. If you look up the first chapter of the Indian Laws of Manu, you literally find the beginning of Genesis. The most remarkable fact is that even an ancient myth of the Quecha indians in the Anses tells the creation of the world virtually verbatim. For me personally the conditions are there to drawn conclusion with the cultural connections of the Atlantean period, just like the uncovering of the head by Kiss in northern Altiplano show did.”
“Then the Bible would be a copy of older works,” the Kasseler couldn’t hide his surprise.
“Yes,” came almost simultaneously from Reimer and Gutmann’s mouth. The latter continued thereto, “But this is good, since the oldest myths of mankind in our geological era – through plagiarism – have been made popular, although their origin has been concealed.”
“How are we thinking all this all of the sudden and getting heated?” Recke was really excited. For a moment there was silence.
Then came quietly from across the right, “We’re under the spell of the pole!” Reimer looked at the restless compass needle. “It’s all very interesting,” he said after a while, “But now – let’s do the navigation check!”
Soldierly soberness came over the men. The values recently identified with the Heaven Compass were in order. The technical part of their mission was resolved properly and satisfactorily from previous results. Soon they’d be circling the magnetic pole. Recke compared the map with the landscape. White paper and white-grey surfaces, that was true. The heights, crevasses and barriers were largely unmeasured and more fictive than actually specified. Guessing from the total distance from the geographic to magnetic pole, he came to the surprising conclusion that the distance was just as great from the Porsangerfjord to the pole over which they’d just flown.
The route had changed again. Gradually the dark spots and toughs of the Arctic ocean appeared again, gradually growing larger. Gigantic icebergs of grandiose appearance enlivened the show. They’d reached the end of the center polar region, this time on the other side.
“We’re flying to Canada now!” cried Reimer, “I have to ask, watch the sky with full attention. An encounter with Canadian aircraft, especially with enemy weather squadrons, is very well within the realm of possibility.”
“Land sighted between floes!” reported Gutmann.
“I already see it,” Reimer added yet, “The map of Axel Heiberg Island.”
“In about two and a half hours we could’ve reached the magnetic pole,” Recke made it felt again.
“That would be good, because something might be wrong here,” Gutmann spoke through the microphone. Reimer snapped on immediately, “Man, don’t let us die in flight! What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know either. Any noise bothers me. Still we should’ve arrived earlier. Maybe we should’ve noticed something.”
“Why didn’t you say that?” from Reimer’s tone was definitely an accusation, “See to it immediately that you find out where a mistake could be!”
“That’s easily said,” answered Gutmann, “We probably won’t be able to avoid a landing.”
“Tube druff!” demanded Recke to the Linzer in the speeding flight, “Make that we dash to the magnetic pole with a monkey-like speed of a hundred seventy-five antelopes per second. Maybe we’ll be faster than Gutmann’s suspected disaster!”
Reimer immediately followed Recke’s advice. Brighter sounded the song of the engines, the plane shot forward and the dim land slipped back to her feet as if pulled.
“With this monkey-ride we’ll break even faster!” howled Gutmann from the right, “If I only knew what was wrong over here…”
“I don’t understand,” said Reimer excitedly, “We already tested the plane prior to the launch in Vernäs. The flight was perfect before!” Nevertheless he lessened the speed again. Full stress on the plane was dangerous when the time came to pull through.
“Funny guy, Gutmann!” mumbled Recke.“He finds out something’s going on and doesn’t know what. When the time comes he gets shot in the head, he’ll start scratching his knees first!”
“Sit down over there!” shouted Gutmann angrily as he heard the conversation through the headphones, “Then you’ll also think you’re walking on a mine!”
“Let’s not make slapstick,” placated Reimer, “If something’s really wrong with Gutmann’s side then it’s too serious for us to be arguing. If nothing else works, then we’ll land. And if Gutmann doesn’t find a problem in the cabin… There aren’t any material breaks showing?”
“I couldn’t tell otherwise,” came from the right.
“Hopefully we can find a favorable landing spot somewhere,” continued the Linzer. With a worried look he turned around, “The maps, if we land near the pole. They show sufficient areas. We have to hurry if we don’t want to freeze.”
The Kasseler grumbled, “We’ll have blue noses! Our Christmas fest back home will be a Midsummer Night’s Dream in comparison.”
The plane pushed further south. Between ice and water one of the easternly Parry Islands appeared, soon after the western spur of Devon Island. Then drift ice again until Franklin Island came into view.
“We’re already in Canada now!” Reimer said very objectively. Still he had this strange, awesome feeling that affects every human who beholds another continent for the first time. It seemed to all three of them the greatest adventure of their lives, without inner preparation, suddenly being able to know the end of the world and a new continent. They couldn’t know that they’d first pulled a card out of a game which fate had prepared for them.
Since Gutmann’s alarm, Reimer payed twice the attention to the sounds of the engines and the functions of the apperati. Everything he checked was fine. The Kasseler let himself sample with increased attention the airspace, now becoming dangerous, and plotted the new positions. Another waterway. The Barrowstreet. And still ice in between. Despite the heated flight-suits and cabins the flyers felt the cold. Then further southwards. The Sumerset Island rose with an increasing coast. The island’s plateau was tundra. Just like the northern half of Axel Heiberg Island, over which they’d already flown.
“If we maintain our leisurely four-hundred kilometers per hour, we’ll be across the island in half an hour. Only the Bellot Straight will separate us then,” explained the Linzer. It was a majestic, yet oppressive, land. Despite the monotony and the seemingly infinite expanses the men in the airplane never tired of watching anything. Though already in the polar Eskimo zone, they noticed no signs of human life. Then, quite unexpectedly, on the southern side of the island there moved dark points! The plane came down like a bird of prey. Reimer screamed as the first, “There – seals – from – no, walruses – they’re walruses!”
“Yes, walruses!” echoed Gutmann, while Recke craned his neck forward, “The first animals. We haven’t seen any polar bears or even a spouting whale.”
Reimer insisted not to fly an extended loop around the animals. Quite low, the airplane roared over the dark, shiny bodies. The animals could be seen waddling excitedly across the beach; the opened mouths looked like red dots out of which shimmered terrible tusks gleaming white. Some of them slipped hurriedly into the spraying water and submerged. And as if moved by an unseen hand rose suddenly hordes of brown-feathered birds into the air, which had been quietly resting perched on the slopes. And then – somewhat to the side again there were more. Slipping to the right, the men saw some auks. With steeply up-turned beaks they peered at the strange, giant bird which clamored so tremendously. Their wings fluttered.
Reimer pulled the stick and climbed back up. A look at the armatures showed him the magnet-needle of the compass was dancing like crazy. He said to his comrades, “We are now over the Bellot Straight. Straight in front of us now is the northern-most part of the Canadian mainland. The Boothia Peninsula. In half-an-hour we reached the North Pole!”
“The new navigation proved one-hundred percent!” gave Recke as an anwer. “With that, we’ve already complete three of the four orders included in our order. There only remains number four now – X-Point!”
The new peninsula on the continent showed a snowy tundra-scape. Reimer flew again at a higher altitude to secure themselves from surprise attacks in the air. The distance to the nearest major enemy air base was only about five or six hours away. With greater airspeed this was even less. The senses of the men sharpened from previous sorties lurked.
There – finally – the furthest point of their order! The geographic position of the magnetic pole in the north had been reached. The point, laying almost on the border of the Arctic circle, was like a symbolic marker of civilization which pointed to the other, now hostile hemisphere. The new navigation system showed the exact location and the plane went deeper.
Solitude all around. The sea of ice beat sluggishly toward the coast at Cape Adelaide, where the magnetic pole lay. In the sky the twilight dusk stood unchanged. Recke was the first to speak, “I think we’re the first German soldiers in this war to set foot on the American continent as enemies instead of prisoners!”
“That’s so,” admitted Reimer, “It’s strange – the war against America isn’t that popular to us. Many people of German descent live here that bear arms now against the folk of their ancestors. Against a country at whose struggle for freedom and whose culture we have a huge part in!”
Recke agreed, “Of course, we have nothing against America and America has little against us. All things considered – my sister lost her life to their relentless and unsoldierly air raid on Dresden. The murder of hundreds of thousands of women and children was wicked! Look – we fight as soldiers against soldiers – but they destroyed culture and murdered relentlessly, wherever German hearts beat…”
“You didn’t tell us anything – about your sister,” called Gutmann from over, “Nevertheless – believe me, it’s not a genuine hatred, its instigation!”
“That’s right! But the clique of haters lead the masses in hatred and further coup themselves! For once you can believe the Promi: it’s Morgenthau’s people that laid in Casablanca the foundation for a soon-coming chaos! – Because of a turning point – a turning point I no longer believe in myself. We’ve definitely applied our arms of war too late.” Recke said it very quietly like a man who’d come to terms with the facts.
Reimer pushed the stick in order to get closer to the ground. “You’re right, Günther – I don’t there there’ll be a turning point. We’ve already squandered too many chances. That means that today we’re here as soldiers, tomorrow as prisoners. From Greenland…” He forced the plane at an angle eastwards, “So – now we’ll see first where we can land. Somewhere here…”
Three pairs of eyes stared at the space beneath them. The men knew clearly that a bad landing with damage would mean the end of their mission. And with that no more return to the homeland as well. The Linzer found a place just appearing in the view of the Boothia Gulf. “Keep your fingers crossed, children!”
“If it goes well…” sighed Recke, “It’s still all full of snow.”
Never before in his life had Recke scheduled a landing with so much thoughtfulness and attention. Snow dust and crushed shreds wisped high in the back. The throttled engines hummed dully. Before touching down the plane staggered.
Reimer had listened carefully to the surface and had to take a light curve to avoid a small hollow. Then he’d accomplished the feat entrusted to him, to bring the plane to a stop without crashing it.
Gutmann was the first to impatiently strike back the cabin roof, “Damn it, it’s still pretty cold!” Stiffly he climbed out of the cockpit.
The second canopy flew back. The abrupt collapse of fresh air stung almost painfully in the faces of the two occupants. They also began to climb out. Their legs were stiff and numb. They didn’t respond right. Before jumping to the ground, Reimer turned off the engines. He said thereafter, “Hopefully they’ll come soon. It’s so cold… but I have to save every drop of fuel. Otherwise someone will find some lonely, frozen men later on in Greenland.”
The men beat their arms around to stimulate their blood circulation in the cold and in the legs as well. “Can you think of anything?” asked Recke after grating his nose.
“What do you mean?” Reimer made heavy steps as if making an Indian dance.
“Well – we are after all almost fifteen minutes into our landing and can’t really tell between night and day.”
“Here a day lasts half a year and half a night,” Gutmann said smiling finely, “We went over this in Vernäs, where were already close to the Arctic circle!”
“It’s nice when we have bright nights. It makes flying easier. Nevertheless – I’m feeling really tired all of the sudden,” Reimer yawned downright provocatively.
“Caution – lockjaw!” warned Recke smiling, “But I’m also tired. I’d even take pervitn!”
“I already took some,” claimed Gutmann, “Curiously I can’t complain about tiredness. I’ll take Reimer’s place!”
“I already took some,” claimed Gutmann, “Curiously I can’t complain about tiredness. I’ll take Reimer’s place!”
The Linzer was not averse, “If you want to…” They walked to the fuselage on the right where Gutmann had sat. Reimer climbed up first and thoroughly examined the second controls, the connections and the wiring, but couldn’t find anything. Together with Recke he struck with thick gloves against the metal parts of the fuselage and the wing. Everything held fast. No crack, no loose parts. Meanwhile Gutmann climbed on the other side into the left-hand compartment. Recke looked at him with a side-long glance, “What’s the stargazer looking for from us, huh?”
“Let him be,” said Reimer inattentive. He was completely preoccupied with the search for a fault. Shaking his head, he said after a moment, “I’d say we should start her up again. Perhaps Gutmann was overwrought…” He broke off as Recke suddenly seized his arms.
“Now it’s all to clear to me!” thundered the Kasseler, “The whole time the stargazer was out to get my place. Come here, Herbert!”
They trudged awkwardly around the chassis. When they reached the other side, they saw only the curved back of their companion. Recke jumped up first. Carefully and slowly, as if he were trapping an animal. He saw Gutmann fiddling, completely engrossed in the radio apparatus. Then Recke clamped down completely from on high. His face was red with anger, from which only his cold nose stood out as a pale blue.
“You damn corpse, you crazy little kid – the ice has gone to your head!”
Gutmann went in terror. Unlike Recke he was suddenly pale. He wanted to say something, but his lips only twitched.
“Gutmann radioed!” cried the Kasseler to Reimer, who appeared beside him, “I’d just like to know – just why and for what…”
The Linzer pushed closer to the opening in the cabin and slid into his seat. “It that really true, Gutmann?”
“Yes – it’s true! I had to do it. But I can’t tell you yet...”
Before everything Reimer tried to start the engines up again. Several times in vain. The cold chilled rapidly. Then – Reimer already looking worried – a few times: tick – tick – a light tremor and the propellers began to revolve again.
“Whew – we’re once again in luck! – Because of your imagination, stargazer, we were almost frozen at the pole. Teixl–” he added in his own dialect. As he turned around, Recke had pulled out a handgun.
“What did you radio?”
Now Reimer let loose, “You stupid mutton! Do you want to lead a private war?” He hit Recke with a high hand, which undid the cold steel-grip of the weapon. The pistol tumbled before Reimer’s feet at the bottom of the seat. “Put your gloves back on, Günther! – And you, Gutmann – out with it, the truth! – Quickly, quickly – we can’t lose any time if we want to manage fuel, so…”
In this moment –with the earpiece – Gutmann raised his hand and commanded silence. Recke jumped up in his seat as well and pushed himself next to Gutmann. Curious he pressed his left ear to the outer half of the earpiece.
“-beep-beep-Z-Y-X-Z-Y-X-stop – expecting you – stop – position –”
A crashing and rattling interfered.
“– new – ord – ty degr – ate br – beep – beep –”
“Damn it!” Gutmann railed angrily, “What’s going on?”
He fumbled around furiously. Then – it repeated, “Z-Y-X… expecting you…”
Recke made a face like a dummy. He’d heard the call-sign that Gutmann had asked him to send some time ago. “And ZYX made contact? They’re expecting someone. Who was ZYX?”
The engines throttled still. Reimer, probably the most curious himself, waved a hand. “Off, Gutmann, go to your cabin! – We have to still…”
“I promised to replace you! – I’m still fresh. Hurry up and–”
“No, I won’t do it, Gutmann. If I let you back with Recke you’ll be at loggerheads again. Only one of you needs to have a tantrum, then adieu… So quickly, march, march!”
Gutmann hesitated. Recke gave him a shove, “Come on, come on…”
It took him a while before he was in his cockpit. The roofs were closed, the windows slightly dull. “We have to wait for a little inner warmth,” said Reimer, “Gutmann, see to it that you pay attention to the runway. With that we won’t run into any holes!”
This time it was Recke who, in the meanwhile, got new readings from the device.
“Great radio,” he said, “since now there’s a concert going through the air!”
“Our Gutmann’s awakened the whole world,” claimed Reimer, “Hey, stargazer – explain quickly, everything you meant!”
“Not now – the time is short! – Only one thing: you now must fly with my directions! I’ve taken a map into my cabin. Or more simply – I’ll fly with my control. Reimer can dose off a bit and you, Recke, pay attention to the ground and sky-space. We’ll come out with our fuel since the new route is shorter.”
“This can only be treason,” said Recke flatly. His powerful body trembled with excitement.
“Treason? No!” screamed Gutmann across passionately, “No and yet again, no!”
“Do you have a second order that the two of us hadn’t known about until now?”
“An order?” There was a small pause, then, “Order? Yes!”
The Linzer ran his gloved hands over the steering wheel which still showed their lining.
“It is an unfortunate thing when a team is played among themselves. At first it was: Secret Order, Recke, take it as senior officer… then, Captain Gutmann, another order! Who would understand that? Gutmann, I also think you’re making an irresponsible, incomprehensible play!”
“I’ll try to explain to you during the flight. First let’s just get away from here!” He saw as Reimer merely nodded over approvingly while Recke grimly looked forward.
Slowly the plane began to take off. Again fine banners of snow waved away to the side from the chassis. There were also scraps of an underlying lichen.
Reimer had to pull himself together. The cold outdoors had refreshed him contrary to his expectations, despite its unpleasant new property, his heated flight-suit waking him and renewed his hidden need for sleep further. “Give me a tablet, Günther! Pervitin.” With frantic eyes he stared at the takeoff surface.
It seemed smooth. Ten meters, twenty meters, forty – the white snow looked pained. Yellow and violet circles danced before the eyes of Reimer. From the right screamed Gutmann, “Achtung!”
A push, the right side of the plane fell back with a little jerk. The right landing gear was pushed into a small depression and didn’t come out right. The plane made a slight involuntary turn.
Reimer immediately pulled on the rudder and slowed the engines again. An even greater swing followed, a slight push in the new direction, then the airplane hung still again.
“Out! See what it is!” ordered Reimer, while the plane broke to a complete standstill.
The canopies flew back, the other captains jumped out, this time much more quickly, to the ground and to the right fuselage. What they saw was not particularly encouraging.
The wheel was caught in a recess, half-covered with new snow, which was only visible from a short range. Gutmann had spotted it at the last moment, his warning unable to stop it. When the plane was turning, the wheel had slid almost a meter in the longitudinal direction of the hollow’s oval as the result of the burden upon it, unable to take the weight of the ridiculously low pitch.
“We have to put something underneath to prevent it from slipping!” cried Gutmann.
“Easily said,” retorted Recke, “We don’t have anything!”
The men looked at each other perplexed, and not having acclimatized they froze horrible. They were supposed to wear face-masks. The drought of the slowly moving propellers whipped the cold air. Reimer didn’t dare to cut the engines off any more.
Scraping with his fur boots, Gutmann tried to expose the lichens to use as a roller base. It proved to be so difficult that it wasn’t worthwhile without equipment. He therefore stopped his actions and returned to the hull where he took out a larger piece-tool. As fast as his heavy clothing allowed him, he raked free the scraps of moss around the depression. Recke was without word and followed his example.
It took a long time before they paved the trough with a thick layered of matted vegetation in the continuation of the wheel’s path. “Try to start her up, Reimer! – Perhaps we’ll be able to get the plane out now.”
The engines roared back stronger and the propellers made glassy circles. The plane moved again and lurched forward a little this time. But she couldn’t get over the small slope.
Again at a standstill. The Linzer also jumped out of the plane and brought out a coil of rope, “Lay a serpentine twist under it!”
It was Gutmann again who first too grip and hastily took over the rope. Recke helped him and Reimer hurried back to his place.
At the next attempt, the wheel came up almost to the brim, then suddenly the entire moss pad slid from the hollow within which the cable was resting. They had gained but a yard. Several times they repeated the experiment and the men became warmed up from the work. It took nearly an hour before the feat was underway, getting the right-hand fuselage out of the hollow without breaking.
The men now had to fight a great weariness like Reimer as well, as the previous long-haul flight inevitably entailed.
Recke had almost reconciled with Gutmann again since the smuggled brandy had become a valuable source of heat. The still yet dominating cold had strangely enough still added to it. They even powdered the stimulants given to them as they pursued their work with the haste and mobilization of all their forces.
Just as they were preparing to climb to their cabins, the rapidly increasing sums of silence in the white desert were broken. Shortly thereafter, a rapidly moving shadow darkened the bright surface of the landscape.
“Get in!” roared Recke, “Flyer over us…”
Like two plump toads they hopped up and threw themselves into their seats. As they closed their cabin doors, Reimer was already starting up. Without particular regard for the terrain ahead of him, he risked a speedy takeoff.
“From the buzz of our own plane we haven’t heard anything else!” Recke defended, as Reimer swore violently despite his tenseness, “Yeah, now we’ve frozen our asses off too!” he had to confirm.
Still the plane had not yet taken from the ground when there already whipped up a whole series of small snowy fountains on the nearest field next to them.
“The guy’s bombarding us with onboard weapons!”
Reimer hit the gas and the metallic twin-bird flew up over the surface like the shadow of a heron. With the break from the earth, the plane had reached its first match on wings. With a vicious pounding the bullets smashed.
“There’s no more grit!” Reimer took his foot off the gas and put in for a fresh landing. “There’s nothing more to want…” While they landed the enemy aircraft thundered away just over the German plane in an arc. Now the three captains could see clearly the Canadian flag.
The sweeping arc of the circle closing, the Canadians let to the ground and began to land. The pilot of the enemy aircraft was a master, for he led out over runway in front of the Germans in order to block any takeoff. Just before the twin-structure he brought the obvious two-seater to a halt. The rigid board-weapons were pointed directly to their enemy.
“Don’t shoot,” warned Reimer, as he noticed that Recke had taken a machine-pistol to hand. “Else they’ll shred us overboard before we even put a scratch on them. Wait and make sure they don’t get out order. Before anything else the map with X-Point! If you need to, fuel over everything that’s paper and burn it!”
“I’ll put it on me,” said Recke firmly, “You and Gutmann, you have to make a wall around me.” As for the Canadians, the cabin roof flew back and a masked man jumped to the ground. He had a handgun in his right, “H a l l o, G e r m a n s!” he shouted in English. The second man was crouched in his seat and had – which was easy to guess – his hands ready on the trigger of the board-gun. As the first man approached, the captains noticed he had a cloth wrapped around the grip of the gun. Understandable in the cold. His right glove dangled on a string.
“Y o u a r e p r i s o n e r s!” the Canadian thundered to the three men, in English and then beginning in German, “Prisoners…” The man had a respectable cutting. Despite the clamor of the two machines his words had been understood. He came up close to the left fuselage and first forces Reimer and Recke to come down. Both of them obeyed perforce, yet unwilling to let anything fall into the hand of the enemy. Recke had previously slipped the gun into his right boot.
They were barely on the snow-field when Gutmann jumped out unsolicited from on over. He came rather awkwardly to the ground, not wanting to part with a sack that he had with him. It dropped our from the sack.
“W e a p o n s – Weapons?” The plump and red face of the brave Canadian looked at them demandingly. Reimer declined. He carried a gun under his flight-suit, where it was invisible but not very handy. Recke mumbled something indistinctly.
The engine noise swallowed up all the words that weren’t screams. The foreigner held the gun in their faces and grabbed them fleetingly from waist-high. His mouth moved as if to say “Okay,” which he’d growled. Then he looked at Gutmann, who appearantly stood undecided.
“Hello, f e l l o w!” said Gutmann as if he hadn’t noticed. Slightly bent he trotted to the enemy plane dragging the bag behind him, the tail of which was black from moisture. He made himself out to be such a strange, helpless figure that the Canadians showed an ironic smile.
“C o m e o n, come with me!” the man asked Reimer and Recke. With a hand he indicated that they should follow Gutmann.
“No!” made Recke with a face of defiance. Reimer was desperate for a moment, unable to find a solution from keeping the enemy from getting the papers.
Now the grey eyes of the Canadian came over with a dangerous shine. He raised the handgun.
Reimer and Recke threw up their hands as a sign of surrender. Then the wind blew over a uncertain cry. It sounded like a long drawn-out “Heeeeeeh…” All three turned their heads to the other aircraft. They saw how Gutmann lay on the ground and got slowly to his feet. He’d already come up against the driver’s seat. When he stood upright again, he brushed the snow from the cumbersome thick clothes, then picked up the bag and looked inside. Appearently, nothing being broken, a trace of moisture had already started from the twin-engine.
The remaining Canadian leaned out and yelled at the Germans in English, “You damned bloody fool…” In that very second Gutmann ripped out his machine gun with his bare hands and hit the opponent over him, thoughts fluttering quickly. A short staccato of gunfire came harshly on the wint. The man in the airplane suddenly reared up, then fell limp over the edge of the entrance.
For a short time the three men by the German aircraft were rigid. The lightning-fast event had overtaken all of them. “Damned…” shouted the Canadian. Again he shrugged up his half-lowered gun, “Damned…”
There was no time for Recke to bend down and grab the gun from his boot. With presence of mind, like never before he’d quickly torn of the glove from his hand and tossed it in the man’s face.
Bang, bang, sounded the gun. The Canadian had has unswervingly shot, though he was deprived of his targets. While the bothersome glove fell, Reimer threw himself on top of him. Through the impact both of the men faltered and tumbled to the snow. Recke sprang immediately, grabbed the gun and pressed it to the Canadian’s hip.
“Another ‘hands-up’ – but this time on the other foot!” Reimer and the others scrambled to their feet. The last one breathed a warm breath onto his hand and then resignedly fit the dangling glove over it. He cursed, but his words were incomprehensible. Then Gutmann came back. Holding the gun in front of him, he stepped up to the prisoner guarded by Recke.
“S o r r y f o r y o u r c o m r a d e – Sorry for your comrade!” he shouted and made a sign of regret, “D o y o u k n o w S h a k e s p e a r e?”
The man nodded blankly. Only his eyes were suspiciously moist.
“Well – to be or not to be, that is the question! – According to Hamlet…”
Reimer came up to Gutmann, “You’ve made a lot of damn crap, stargazer!” he shouted in his ear, “But now you’ve ironed everything out again. I wasn’t even betting fifty cents on us. Thought we didn’t have a chance…”
The Kasseler went to Gutmann, without taking his eyes from the man, “You have a tick, Gutmann, but when it comes down to it you’re a patented guy.”
“Ach, let it be. We’re soldiers!”
“Well, we are after all,” shouted Reimer, “But now what?”
“Let’s go to the plane and take the fuel!” Gutmann thought of the man laying nearby, “Maybe the guy left a few drops so he could fly back south. If he get’s back to civilization, it wouldn’t be too bad for him anymore.”
“Then go,” said Recke, “I’ll watch him for the time being.”
Reimer trudged off approvingly with Gutmann. As they stood before the other plane, they saw that the second man was dead. A thin strip of frozen blood loomed down the outer wall of the fuselage. It came from a deeply hanging sleeve.
Gutmann couldn’t see right. He’d never fought that way before. He got sick. Reimer stepped up carefully as if to not disturb someone sleeping and saw the driver’s seat over the man’s body. “It’s still worth it for the fuel. We could even leave a few drops. We’ll form a support-related decanting caravan with a fourth of the tank. Now!”
He carefully put the dead back into his seat so that the exit was free. He threw a can from behind the second seat down to the ground. It was full. As the two captains stood again by their plane, it was Gutmann again whose eyes were everywhere.
“What kind of puddle is that, under the center-piece of our apparatus?”
Reimer looked back and winced, “That couldn’t be…” His nostrils flared slightly, trying to perceive a smell. Then he jumped cumbersomely forward from between the two hulls to the center-piece. “Our fuel…!”
Together with Gutmann he examined the mid-section from below. It was simple, really. Some of the shots reigned down from the Canadian had punctured the fuel tank. Now it was leaking like a scraped-up boat.
Walking with the Canadian before him, Recke also joined them. The three companions looked at each other desperately. It was only the prisoner who understandably showed a mocking laugh.
“There’s no more sealant,” called the Linzer, “We should see how much fuel is still available overall!” He jumped to his seat and looked at the fuel gauge, “Heh, comrades… we can’t do anything more about the leakage.”
He turned off the engines and slowed the intake. The strong roar died down all at once and the men could understand each other effortlessly now. The noise from the second plane wasn’t as strong. “Fast talk, gentlemen! What now?”
The three men stomped curtly in the snow to keep themselves warm. Gutmann advised, “On the other hand, we could use the remaining fuel to refill the Canadian plan. We’d just have to switch planes!”
“Three men in a box?” Reimer shook his head, “And the Canadian?”
He threw an empty canister from the cabin, “Gutmann, put him under the exit hole and start with the fuel. A shame for every drop!”
There was an awkward silence for a few minutes. Then Gutmann suggested, “I only see two possibilities. Either we fly off as a trio with two of us crammed like sardines in the second seat and leave the Canadian behind, or I’ll take him and just one of us! To land at Point ZYX,” Gutmann’s voice sounded urgently, “To come back again and pick up our second man.”
“That’s not very possible,” said Recke, “One of us alone here… I think that’d be really dangerous. Although I’d do it myself…”
“No!” replied Reimer harshly, “The answer has to be something else. Of course we can’t leave the guy to the dogs here. The Prisoner Statute burdens us with responsibility for his life. We can’t leave one back here alone either since we have to destroy the plane as quickly as possible, so it won’t become another surprise victim. Therefore I propose: Recke and I will stay back together and will get picked up at the soonest possible time. You, Gutmann, have to naturally make sure that the prisoner stays secured during the flight. Anything else is simply out of the question, and so further debate about this is a waste of time and can’t be militarily justified!”
“That’ll be hard already,” said Gutmann and looked at the powerful prisoner.
“Binding and strapping him in. Simple stuff!” said Recke, “Reimer and I will clear out anything of importance from the airplane and build an igloo. The Eskimos that live in these parts supposedly live in such things. I read it once somewhere…”
“Tying up the prisoner in the second seat and building an igloo are viable thoughts. It takes the longest time to find the simplest answers!” With these words Reimer boarded his seat again and began to work. He was determined and energetic. Gutmann and Recke forced the Canadian to his plane. There they pushed him into the second seat and let him help take out the dead. Recke, as the strongest, let him slide gently to the ground and laid him somewhat aside on the snow. The Canadian out a blanket from somewhere and threw it to Recke with which to cover the fallen. They understood each other without words.
“We’ll bury him when you guys are gone,” said the Kasseler to Gutmann. Then he asked the prisoner to give him his hands backwards where he was tied together at the wrists. From the equipment inside he’d unceremoniously cut off a pair of belts which rendered their service excellently. Then the man was strapped in with the seat belts. “There’s no other way,” Recke regretted.
Reimer came up with the fuel canisters and filled the tanks up. After a second time he handed Gutmann the maps, “Just take them!” he said as Gutmann showed him the Canadian regional maps.
“Where?” asked the Canadian, who’d followed the surprise preparations for departure. He then stammered and switched back to English, “Europe – it’s not possible…!”
“Of course,” grinned Reimer in response the two words thick on his accent, “We’d never get to Europe with this plane.”
“We can untie your hands if you give your Ehrenwort. Ehrenwort – word of honor – you understand?”
“Okay! I understand. You wouldn’t have trouble with me… Errenvuord!”
“Then free his hands again, Gutmann!” Reimer asked for the prisoner, “He’ll hold his word…”
“I’d also like that! It’s a dumb feeling knowing that there’s a bonded person behind you,” he reached for the Canadian’s hand, “His word it is!”
“Yes,” said the man, closing his gloved hand tightly with firm pressure against Gutmann’s right.
“And so it goes,” interrupted Recke half out-loud, “But if we were to leave him with one of us alone, I wouldn’t trust him…” He turned around and went back to Gutmann’s cabin with Reimer to help clear it out. Gutmann oriented himself with the equipment and apertures of the still alien aircraft.
Twenty minutes later the stolen plane was ready for takeoff. “Don’t distance yourselves too far away from here,” bid Gutmann, “Don’t forget, look out for the emblems of any coming aircraft facilitating retrieval. I’ll be back as soon as possible!”
“My comrade?” asked the Canadian again in English and pointed with a hand to the dead man laying to the side. It was obvious that it was close by.
“He’ll be buried – ‘burried’!” explained Reimer.
“I’m astonished. Are you not Huns?”
“Dumb ass,” cried Gutmann, “Did they fill you with fairytales of Huns too?” To Recke, who standing further away hadn’t understood as much, he repeated, “He think’s we’re Huns and such…”
“He really think’s we’re man-eaters,” Recke snarled.
Just in case, Gutmann stashed the handgun in the knee of his fur boot, on his inner leg. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to act if the Canadian decided to pull a violent stunt. The machine gun he tucked behind his legs on the floor. The Heaven Compass he’d already taken over himself and had already stowed it. The flight direction was flawlessly clear for him.
The companions shook hands, “Break a leg, stargazer!” The Canadian saluted. The plane, which had been reversed before, began to roll out and thundered across the white face. Clouds of snow-dust rose up, and then the plane came off the ground and flew slowly gaining height, off into the grey twilight of the northern night.
Recke and Reimer sat in the closed cabin and took counsel. They were aware that their plane, despire some ridiculously small holes, was beyond the point of recovery at this point. The awareness that they had to end a flight begun with such hopes because of the loss of carelessness with their problematic plane oppressed them. Recke’s prompt accusations at Gutmann had only been too justified. The two men couldn’t shake the feeling that Gutmann had played them, violating despite his cutting and efficiency in the rules of true pilots’ camaraderie. His previous hints had been all too ambiguous to gain any comprehensive picture.
“So let’s go build an igloo!” Recke concluded the previous palaver, “It’d be really convenient if all we had to do was wait here and endure. But if another or even more Canadian wasps show up, we’ll be handed up on a platter with the plane too. We won’t be able to give them a black eye the second time.
“Yes – what must be, must be!” the Linzer was very down-beaten.
“There’s no other way! Start with the fact that we’ve mucked out everything that’s useful. I suggest we take the seats out since we can hardly squat in the snow. No one wants a wet or frozen butt.”
The men went to work to put the proposal into action. They took the seats out and threw them into the open. Then came three warm blankets. Food and thermos bottles and brandy – a bottle of cognac that Gutmann had had to sacrifice in his dealing with the Canadian plane – the Kasseler himself brought down to the ground. Likewise the two M-Pi’s, which he threw tentatively into a blanket. Some tools, knives and other small items were also placed in the blanket. Reimer squeezed an overview map of northern Canada in his flight-suit.
“Do we have everything important, Herbert?”
“Yes,” replied the Linzer, “Here – the order. We’ll burn it too. I have the position of X-Point in my head.”
“Then our with us. Adieu, old timer!” Reimer emptied an overflowing fuel can into the seat, having brought the second one with the rest of the stashed items. He soaked some rags, tied a string to it strong with moist fuel, and then sprang to Recke. He’d thrown the order into the fuel pool. Recke ignited his lighter and held it to the line. It took a little while until the fire started and a bluish flame began to slowly twitch. Then the fire suddenly slipped on as if driven by an invisible hand.
“Get back!” shoutet Recke. He and Reimer ran cumbersomely, as much as their legs could give. With precaution the men walked further backwards.
Even while running they could feel the tan blazing higher. Far enough away, they turned around. A bright flame steeped diagonally from the driver’s seat with the loud roar of the draft. As a thick cloud a black, suffocating smoke grew over which grew more and more in size. First a few bangs, which continued in a chain reaction, then the flash of a flame which was accompanied by a horrible crackling. Debris flew into the air, followed by a wobbly fire. The hydraulic of the left landing gear collapsed like the leg of a bruised stork and one half of the plane fell unfolding onto the ground. At the same time the mid-section buckled and the plane rushed into burning. The radiating heat was so great that the snow vaporized around it, hissing. Hot waves swept over the faces of the two pilots. Black puffs of carbon impregnated the air. At the drama’s end there was a heap of twisted and melted metal parts which still glowed. In the bright night stood a dark column of smoke like a giant admonitory finger. Deeply stirred and with narrowed eyes, the two friends went to their salvaged belongings. Reimer took out one of the two remaining bottles of cognac and handed it opened to Recke.
“Halali – fight on!”
“Fight on!” repeated the Kasseler.
They lashed the knotted blankets onto the two seats, after which they took up the machine guns and armed themselves. The rope-ends of the two luggages they secured in a wide loop, to follow the seats like a sled. It was tedious, but it was nevertheless. After the work they went to the dead Canadian and dragged him to the trough in which they’d sacked the left-hand chassis of the plane. They pulled the lichen aside and placed the man at the bottom of the oval hole. Then they poured the moss on again, and then the accumulated snow to form a small hill.
As Reimer stuffed the papers he’d taken from the dead in his pockets, in order to bring them to th Canadian lieutenant, Recke went back to the burning place of their plane. He returned with a propeller part that had flown away.
“We don’t have any crosses,” he said harshly. Thus he heaved the flier sign at the head of the grave-mound in the snow. Then both of them rendered the fallen one last salute.
The light of the bright night slept like a dim veil over the lonely expanse of the polar landscape.